The North Watch: Adventures in the Narumbeki Gap
A Southlands Sandbox.
Chapter Four: The Dry Spaces:
T'Balla thinks for a moment and replies to his guest newly arrived from the south, "Once you leave the hills and descent that glorious contraption to the flats below, it is open space as far as the eye can see. Dry and dusty space though. Fortunately not like the endless stretches of sand in the great desert many many miles north, but like those dune seas, there is little rain, lots of wind and nasty storms or two. Keep the road in sight as you move. But if you can't see, then I suggest you don't move."
The Lion Road stretches for many hundreds of miles from Nuria Natal south to Narumbeki. This series of articles considers the approximately three hundred mile stretch centered upon the keep at North Watch, the northern end of the Narumbeki gap. The lands to the north and east of the Lion Road feature the southern edges of the broad swath of wastes between the Fassili and MBazha mountains and the fertile river banks of Nuria Natal in the distant north and east..
Geography (Physical and Political)
Holding his hands together at the base, T'Balla makes the shape of an L. "Mountains go up and mountains go across," he says, "foothills along the edges and then wastes fill the gaps. The Lion Road cuts down the middle. Not much else to see so one better be on their way eh?"
As one might expect, the Dry Spaces is about 5000 square miles of open barren terrain as far as the eye can see. The flatlands are marked by a various ridges, small hills, crevasses and dry washes. Small clumps of vegetation mark the few underground sources of water. The vegetation of the rest of region sifts moisture from the air and the rare rains drifting north from the MBazha mountains.
Weather in the Dry Spaces
The weather is quite different from that of the Narumbeki Gap. It is typical of near-desert wastes with long dry summers and short moist winters. The few travelers in the wastes are quite adept at predicting the potential for sandstorms or the infrequent dry lightning storms thus the new arrivals, welcome or unwelcome, pay close attention to their words.
Culture of the Dry Spaces
Along the Lion Road, north of Narumbeki’s northern border, the locals generally follow the rules and traditions of their brethren to the south. The lands off of the Lion Road are sparsely populated, if at all. The residents follow their own traditions which are many and varied. Villages north of the MBazha mountains are usually home to wanderers and nomads from points north bringing with them the customs of Nuria Natal and elsewhere. Folk generally lead separate quiet lives. However, the locals will usually gather together to fend off any external threat. They would likely be lead by a notable local such as the Weatherman.
North and west of the Lion Road, the foothills of the Fassili mountains are the territory of the Masar A’Nar (Fire Path) jinnborn of a siraati (path) that binds them to the mountain range. These jinnborn have established themselves as the protectors and warders of the Fassili range for their patron Jinn resides in the volcanic depths. They treat the mountains as holy lands.
Locations of Note
T'Balla leans close, with a conspiratorial grin, "There are whispers of people who wander about or hide with the outskirts of the wastes, especially where the hills drop to the desert floor. Ancient villages carved into the stone hiding refugees and criminals. Sacred paths patrolled by implacable fire-wielding foes. Some might prefer thirst and the sun to those sort of encounters."
The following are locations of note in the eastern wastes north of the MBazha mountains.
- The Crack in the World
- Rabban’s Retreat
- The Sacred Marsh
- Wayfarer's Walls
- The Tail of the Fire Trail Siraat
The Crack in the World
A dusty trail leads west of north from the Wayfarer’s Walls (4) seemingly headed nowhere. After almost a day’s travel the path reaches a vast crack in the surface of the barrens, about 15 miles long and as much as 200 feet wide in spots. A glance into the darkness suggest that it appears to be bottomless. The path leads to a single building along the eastern side of crevice. This seemingly innocuous structure is the only entrance to the prison of A'Salm A'Zalam. (See below)
Along the escarpment, east of the Lion Road, are numerous encampments of various sizes carved into the stone and earth. Between those, hidden from prying eyes by natural stone and cultivated vegetation, is the entrance to a narrow box canyon of stone soaked red by the blood of Titans spilled during a great battle in the ancient past. Within this narrow defile is one of the largest settlements, home to a most dangerous band, Rabban's Raiders.
Rabban's Raiders hide in a narrow box canyon about 150 feet at its widest and well over 500 feet deep, The north end opens on to the Nurian wastes. Most of the natural foliage and cover has been retained or restored to hide the canyon from direct view. Only a narrow entry path can be seen on close or overhead inspection.
The south end narrows to a steep path along a ravine ascending into the foothills of the mountains. It can be used for escape in times of danger, but the path is single-file and the climb tricky. The ravine becomes a dry wash that divides the canyon floor in half. The floor is filled with a variable number of tents (based on the strength of the Raiders at any one time). A large corral covers part of the west side. A number of rooms and chambers have been carved into or built out of the canyon walls. In the southwest corner is a three story construction of chambers, known as Rabban’s Retreat. It is the home to Rabban and his favored lieutenants. Guards patrol the space outside and the floors inside at all times.
The canyon level floor of the Retreat features a small stables (1) for the steeds for Rabban and his lieutenants. Next to that is the entryway and hayloft (2), the latter connected by ladder to the 2nd floor. Beyond a doorway is the "mud" room where guests are greeted and some supplies are stored. Stairs (A) lead from the back of the mudroom up to the second floor.
- 1d6 OF people are present in the stables 50% of the time
- 2 IF guards are present in the mudroom 99% of the time
The stairs (A) from the ground floor lead to a hallway divided by several doors. Along the outside wall are two bedroom (4) for Rabban's favored lieutenants. Next is a lounge (5) that also features a small shrine maintained by Ibn-Mal the priest. At the end of the hall is a meeting room/kitchen (6) featuring a firepit, storage, a large table and chairs, Stairs (B) lead from the hallway outside (6) up to the third floor.
- 1 IF level guard is present walking the hallway 50% of the time
- 2 IF level guards are present at the end of the hallway (near stairs (B)) - 99% of the time.
The stairs (B) from the 2nd floor lead to Rabban's quarters (7) that occupy the entire third floor. He has a large bedroom with a fine view of the canyon. Through a locked door is his office within which are two vaults built into the stone walls.
The Sacred Marsh
A day’s travel north from the Great Lift (see Chapter 2) a small clump of trees surround a marshy oasis. Near the precious water supply, caravan masters have built corrals of wood and stone (most materials brought by wagon from the hills to the south). Narrow paths thread between the fences. Several common areas, where the paths meet, feature regularly used firepits. A shrine to friendly spirits of nature sits at the edge of a grass about the oasis.
Nearby sits a small hut, home to an old fellow, the self-designated caretaker of the oasis. He mucks out the corralls, using the manure to grow grass around the marsh. The old man harvests the grass for straw and trades it to the caravans as feed in exchange for food, fuel and tools.
Two day’s travel north from the Great Lift an enterprising caravan company built a large walled structure enclosing a space about a hundred paces on a side. Shelters and small sheds sit underneath a walkway behind battlements that mark the top of the walls. Several firepits mark the courtyard with several ovens along one wall opposite gates leading to the road. The structure provides some measure of defense for any caravan able to outrun raiders or bandits to the site. Rumor suggests that there is a well concealed in one corner of the structure underneath a thick slab of stone that can only be opened by certain caravan masters.
The Tail of the Fire Trail Siraat
The jinnborn of the Masar A’Nar (Fire Trail) siraati, as is their nature, occupy few camps for any length of time. The southernmost point of their eternal circuit about the Fassili mountains is about 30 miles west of the Great Lift (see Chapter 2 - The Lion Road). On rare occasions the jinnborn will visit the camp at the Lift to trade with caravans as they pass along the road.
Their campsite, the Dhil (or tail) as some call it, is a small watering hole in the foothills, concealed from direct view by a swath of brush growing on top of the remains of an eons-old landslide. The only permanent features of the site is the spring that fills a nearby pond and sacred shrine to their patron Jinn.
Roaming the Prairies: The Cells of A'Salm A'Zalam
In the wastes south of Nuria Natal, a 1/2 mile long crevasse cuts across the flats (see The Crack in the World (1) above). On the east side, reached by a dusty trail, a single building marks the entrance to the prison of A'Salm A'Zalam (the Silent Dark). In the depths of the chasm below the crevasse, whose bottom may be many hundreds of feet below the surface or may be bottomless, cells are hung between the walls, rocking slightly in the stagnant, damp and cold air. Here the Nurians throw prisoners (such as Hyde Arlin) that will never be released. Escape is difficult if not impossible. Those who attempt such usually find themselves plummeting to the bottom of the chasm, mingling with rocks, debris and the bones of those who fell before them.
The Cells shows a typical cell. On one side of the cavern arrow slits allow guards or a few visitors to view the imprisoned. On the other side a track guides a cart with a folding bridge, used for access to the cells.
The Watch is a view above. Above the arrow-slits are battlements with heavier weapons to use versus determined escapees.
The Bottom is the depths of the chasm. Stone, bones, debris litter the floor. A narrow cold stream, which carved this rent in the earth eons ago, drifts silently in mute observance.
Climbing the Mountains: The Hollow Ridge
Sometimes it feels to travelers that the wastes south of Nuria Natal will never end. But the sight of the distant MBazha mountains, once sand and storm clears, brings hope that their destination is near. The sands turn to barren wastes and those eventually become a sparse scrubland. A dark line on the horizon, below the peaks, resolves into an escarpment rising several hundred feet in places. It runs from the Fassili mountains to the west to a point near Aerdvall in the east.
Explorers, travelers and others fleeing the north, have reached the ridge and discovered that in some areas the cliffs are dotted with openings leading into hollows in the stone. Over the years, industrious souls have turned those caves into residences of varying sizes ranging from several caves supporting a single family to extensive diggings large enough to become a village.
The number of inhabitants along the escarpment varies with the years, based on fate and fortune (in the form of raids, monsters, bad weather and other maladies). Desperate adventurers might be lucky enough to find an empty cavern complex where they can rest, heal and perhaps avoid pursuit. If unlucky, bandits or monsters may already claim the space.
"Life in the wastes," T'Balla offers, "is fleeting and transitory. People wander through and rarely leave a trace. The history is in the things that do not move. The dark spaces under the surface created by God, Titan or man."
Nuria Natal was established years before Narumbeki. During that time Nurian explorers found and mapped a number of passes across the MBazha mountains that divide the Southlands between north and south. Adventurers found the lands to the south rich in resources but devoid of nations. Trade was limited to exchanges with a few friendly tribes and clans. The eastern routes, trading with the dwarves of Sebbek Sobor and others, were more profitable.
The trade route, following the westernmost of the previously mapped passes, was established when the Narumbeki nation came into being. As the route was used, the settlements of the Gap were built in response to the needs of the caravans and the armed in response to raids out of the east. Locals, funded by merchant companies, built the keeps at North Watch and South Watch. Caravan companies hired dwarven engineers (of Sebbek Sobor initially and now from western Narumbeki) to clear the landscape, raise the roadbed, provide drainage and build bridges as needed across the valleys of the Narumbeki Gap. Well before the route was complete, it had been dubbed the Lion Road.
- Approximately 3000 years ago - Warrior tribes, once beloved of the Titan Mwari, settle on the plains south of the MBakha mountains.
- 2500 years ago - Now a unified nation, merchants of Nuria Natal establish contact with the Mukani (warlord) of Narumbeki
- 2250 years ago - the first course of the Lion Road is abandoned when the collapse in the Vale of Ruins creates the Tunnel of Folly
- About 1500 years ago - the patron Jinn of the Masar A’Nar is banished to or bound into the Fassili mountains. The jinnborn tribe begins its endless trek patrolling the borders of the now sacred land
- 750 years ago - Nurian explorers discover the Crack in the World. The government establishes their secret prison in its depths.
- 200 years ago - the village of Dead End, one in a long line of settlements, established along the Old Lion Road
- 15 years ago - Rabban assembles his raiders and begins raiding southern Nuria Natal, retreating to his escarpment lair.
The Dry Spaces Now
Today the region is all about the traditional cycles of its inhabitants. The jinnborn follow their sacred paths about the mountains. Caravans stick to the beaten path and time-honored weather and economy-driven schedules, interrupted by the infrequent raids of Rabban and lesser raider captains. Even in the depths of the prison in the Crack of the World, the shifts of the guards continue like clockwork.
Inhabitants and Notable Persons
“Ah yes, the people you would want to meet are usually quite ordinary,” he smiles but then continues, “The extraordinary ones are those you do not wish to meet. They are likely harsh, secretive, violent or all at once. Is that something you wish to experience at such a tender age?”
Bathrin Iannir, Hero level Fighter
Bathrin is a fire-aspected jinnborn of the Masar A’Nar Siraat. The scarlet-skinned, golden-eyed jinnborn is the Pathmaster (leader) of the Siraat. Tall and strong, Bathrin wears armor of metal-reinforced leather and wields long curved swords forged in the heat of the volcanoes. He proudly leads the tribe on their holy path along the fire trail about the mountains. Generally the Siraat follows his every command, but several years ago, he was forced to exile his brother, Vatal. Vatal believed he had found a different path, one which would enable the Siraat to release their patron Jinn from his volcanic imprisonment. Bathrin did not believe him and would not stand for a change to their route.
Vatal Iannir, Hero level Ranger
Vatal is a fire-aspected jinnborn of the Masar A’Nar Siraat. His skin is a wonderful carnelian shade and his dark-gray, almost black eyes speak of hidden secrets yet to be found. Tall, but lithe and quick, when seen he is usually shrouded in robes or clothes of gray and black, long curved knives concealed in the folds. Vatal doesn’t have a set profession; but seems to know how to do a little of everything including disguise. Vatal is one of the few Jinnborn that actually travels the Lion Road; but has not revealed himself to any human who encounters him. He is rumored to possess a Living Tapestry. A few people suspect that he is responsible for kidnapping several children of the ridge communities that have gone missing. They think that he has used the Living Tapestry to quickly capture his prey and then secreted them away somewhere.
A'Salm A'Zalam Prison
Gerdohr Darnom, Warden, Hero level Thief
Gerdohr is the Dwarven warden of A’Salm A’Zalam Prison. Gerdohr was a bit of a thief in his younger years. Tall for a dwarf, with a quick smile, and crinkly eyes, he was a favorite with women of all races. Gerdohr’s usual scam was to let wealthy women pay his way and when he sensed they were tiring of him, leave before things got messy. Unfortunately for him, he turned his charm on the wrong person - a human woman who actually turned out to be a man.
That gentleman, who preferred to remain hidden, had him put into A’Salm A’Zalam Prison. That was twenty years ago. Gerdohr is the only living person to have ever escaped the prison (5 years after his imprisonment) but his enemy’s influence persisted. That’s why the prison’s creators made him an offer he couldn’t refuse - become the warden (and as an added bonus he understands how the prisoners’ think).
Hyde Arlin, Gnoll Caravan Raider( Prisoner), Important Folk level Fighter
Hyde was part of a caravan raiding party that was sent out to take part in the Blood Raid. During the Blood Raid much glory is heaped upon those who explore the farthest and bring back the wealthiest items. Hyde’s party was determined to be number one and Hyde, in particular, wanted to excel and find some good loot! Alas, this wasn’t meant to be. The caravan that Hyde’s party raided was guarded by a wily wizard, one Arnold Garion. Arnold discovered Hyde raiding his personal wagon and imprisoned Hyde with a spell. Arnold then dropped Hyde off at A’Salm A’Zalam Prison where Hyde has stewed for several years. Hyde plots his revenge against Arnold daily and constantly examines this cell for any small weakness that he can exploit. Warden Darnom watches with great interest.
Hassim Rabban, Hero level warrior
Tall broad Natali man with dark skin, wide mustachios and bright teeth. Favors elaborate and rich clothing over heavy duty chain mail. Scarves and jewelry abound. Fights with all manner of swords, sometimes in pairs and sometimes with a shield. Possibly a disgraced noble of high stature.
Ibn-Mal or Ibn the Dervish, Hero level cleric
Short thin overly energetic Natali woman. Worshipper of the desert winds (or equivalent). Wears many scarves and ribbons. Favors whirling weapons like ships or chains (or kusari gama equivalent). Accomplished healed and provides mass blessings for the bandits (curses for their opponents). Skilled with herbs and cooking.
The Faceless One, Hero level magician
Tall person of unknown race clad head to toe in brown and gray robes. Voice altered by magics. Wears a dull metal mask. Wields a simple staff of black wood and mithril heels. Has a small desert wyvern (or mini-drake) as a familiar. Summons the desert winds to shield large groups of bandits.
Shanta M’Bembu, Hero level thief
Tall thin Narumbeki woman, perhaps ritually branded indicating her profession. Skill and savy hunter and thief. Good with bow, spear and long knives. Practiced outdoors and indoors. Very streetwise and knows many of the nobles (likely establishes bribes to select which caravans will not be subject to raids).
Races of the Gap:
The distribution of races found in the settlements along the Lion Road resemble that of the connected nations, Narumbeki and Nuria Natal. However given the small total population, the proportions don’t follow the same percentages you might expect.
70% Humans, 10% Dwarves, 10% Gnolls, 4% Minotaurs, 4% Jinnborn, 2% other races.
Note: In order to allow for flexibility and scaling for the power-level of a campaign, NPC levels are given in generic categories, specifically (from lowest level to highest):
- Ordinary Folk (OF) - the bulk of the population
- Important Folk (IF) - the top few % of the population
- Heroes (H) (and/or Villains (V)) - NPCs well above ordinary, notable in their region
- Epic Heroes (EH) (and/or Epic Villains (EV)) - the best of the best (or worst of the worst)
- Herein be Demi-Gods and the Gods
East of the Lion Road and north of the mountains. Roll an encounter roll for each 4 hours of day or 10 miles of travel.
1d100 Dice Roll
01 - 30
Underdark creatures possible near the Crack in the World and along the Escarpment (underground and in the caves)
31 - 50
Underdark monsters possible near the Crack in the World and along the Escarpment (underground and in the caves)
Fire-aspected monsters possible near the foothills of the Fassili mountains
51 - 60
Sinkhole, landslide, ravine or other unusual feature
61 - 70
Sand storms and dry lightning storms are the worst weather of the Dry Wastes.
Flash floods or mudslides in spring especially near the foothills.
On rare occasions fire Jinn spawn firestorms out of the Fassili mountains.
71 - 80
1d6 OF level locals going about their business in the mountains
81 - 85
1-50 - A Shield-equivalent (6 OF level fighters) lead by an older warrior (OF level fighter) on a walk-about patrol from the nearest village (if in 10 miles of the Escarpment).
51-75 - A mounted party (5 OF level fighters lead by 1 IF level leader) of Masar A’Nar jinnborn scouting for intruders along the Fassili mountains
76-100 - A Company lead (36 OF level fighters, 6 OF level Ntanga) by a Teni (Captain, IF level fighter) from Narumbeki proper (if within 10 miles of the Lion Road)
(re-roll if location not applicable)
86 - 90
Small caravan or individual merchants on the Old Lion Road
Expedition of explorers or adventurers in the wilderness
91 - 95
6+1d6 OF level Fighters lead by 1 IF level Leader attack via ambush (1-75) or direct attack (76-100)
96 - 98
Experienced Waste Raiders
1d6 IF level bandits from the wastes (such as members of Rabban’s Raiders for example).
Attack via ambush (1-50) or direct attack (51-100)
99 - 100
T'Balla replies to the youths staring at a wanted poster outside the general store, "Ah the wastes ... it is not a place of ruined castles, dragon lairs and troll bridges like ours ... it is a private place where the wanted go to hide and don't want to be found. It is a private place that the fire-born nomads consider sacred ground. It is a place to tread carefully."
Similar to NPC levels, adventure difficulties are defined as
- OF - for Ordinary Folk/beginning adventurers
- IF - for Important level Folk/intermediate adventurers
- H - for Heroes/experienced adventurers
- and EH for truly Epic Heroes/veteran adventurers.
Sample adventure threads for the Dry Wastes portion of the Narumbeki Gap region:
- [OF] A merchant departing from North Watch plans to ride east along the ridge, to trade with the locals living in caves within the stone. She seeks your protections for the trip.
- [IF] A long way from Sebbek Sobor, a Dwarf wants an escort to meet the djinnborn tribe of the Masar A’Nar.
- [H] A confidential request for the government of Nuria Natal brings you to the prison within the Crack in the World. There is an empty cell and they need to know whether the prisoner still lives in the depths below.
- [EH] Rabban and his raiders have made what may be their worst enemy - a Nurian Emir who has hired your band of seasoned adventurers to put an end to the self-styled bandit king once and for all.